Former Penn State football coach, Joe Paterno, known for his “uniform” of glasses with thick smoky lenses, rolled up khaki pants, black sneakers and a “Nittany Lion Blue” windbreaker died this morning after what has to have been the most horrific few months of his 85 years.
As a Penn State Alumni several times over (B.S., M.Ed., Principal Certifications) I have “known of” JoePa since arriving on campus in State College, PA in 1969. Paterno made the unusual journey from Brooklyn, New York to the farm lands of the Nittany Valley sixty-one years ago to become the asst. football coach (leading to forty six years as head coach). It was there he planted the seeds of his life’s legacy, Success with Honor. I, like many of my dear readers have struggled since November to wrap my brain around the ripples emanating from the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. How could Joe Paterno have been fired? What did he know, when did he know it, and is he responsible for not preventing further abuse after information was presented to him by a graduate assistant? To quote Oprah, “What do I know for sure?” I know we will never know.
The media had a field day with the “student riots” on the Penn State campus immediately following Paterno’s firing. To expect the students, most of whom are still adolescents, to calmly accept the firing of a man whose picture they would expect to find illustrating a Wikipedia entry on the words ethics, honor and integrity is unrealistic. While I don’t condone the actions of those students, it could have been predicted. At Joe Paterno’s request, those students turned their energies to positive ends within days.
There was much criticism that JoePa should never have been idolized and placed upon a pedestal. To say that is to say that the world should have no heroes beyond those created in books, stories and animated movies. To deny real world heroes is to create a world that is at once extremely sad and containing no hope for the future. Perhaps we have created too narrow a definition of Joe Paterno’s life legacy.
Paul Posluszy (inset photo on cover) is a former player under Paterno who led the Nittany Lions to The Big Ten Championship and currently plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars, stated, “Besides the football, he (Paterno) is preparing us to be good men in life.” Paterno had a reputation for demanding excellence in the classroom as well as on the field. In the course of his sixty-one years at Penn State, Joe and his wife donated millions of dollars to build up non-sporting programs at PSU. One of his legacies is the Paterno Library, one of the jewels of the University Park campus. He, indeed, could see life beyond the view from inside Beaver Stadium.
Paterno was a popular keynote speaker on the topic of ethics in sports. His players, Penn State students past and present, and indeed the entire collegiate community nationwide, have been given a great gift in the life example of Joseph Vincent Paterno. Even if some believe he was too “deified,” the reality is the essence of his persona created a high moral and ethical standard for all who knew him and knew of him. For sixty-one years he has sent both football players and students into the world to carry forward the JoePa style of honor and ethical behavior. At the end of a life, those are the “fallout ripples” that really matter.
Joe Paterno was admitted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. He was named Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association four times. He was considered to be one of the most successful coaches in the history of college football.
Let us continue to carry forward the true life legacy of Joe Paterno. Lord knows we live in a time where the world needs those high standards of excellence as a guiding light. Let us not confuse the unknowns of one situation with a life well lived with integrity.
Rest peacefully, JoePa. You’ve earned it. Thank you for the guiding light that was you life.